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Top places to visit on a Manchester city break

Plan a Manchester city break

The birthplace of Oasis, Vimto, Vegetarianism, votes for women and the UK rave scene, Manchester is cemented in cultural legend but there’s so much more to this northern city of reinvention than you can imagine. Where old industrial districts are now cultural hubs, uber-cool DJs have morphed into restauranteurs (cactus tacos anyone?) and former banks into speakeasy-style hotels. And we haven’t even mentioned the word footy yet. Piqued your interest? Read on to find our must-visit places in Manchester.

 

1

Places to eat in Manchester

Mana, Manchester

Manchester’s first Michelin-starred restaurant since the seventies, Mana is the epitome of British fine dining. On arrival at this stylish restaurant, you’ll be shown to a table with views of the kitchen where chef-owner Simon Martin and his team work their magic using produce from the British Isles. The fixed-price menu is purely a surprise (there’ll be no food envy here), but expect an emphasis on seafood as well as bold flavours, many of them influenced by Simon’s travels around the world. There’s only one caveat – you’ll need to book well in advance as tables here are snapped up quickly.

More places to eat

Owned by DJ duo Unabomber, Refuge by Volta serves up an eclectic range of sharing plates – from cactus tacos to halibut ceviche – in a roomy 1920s-style restaurant on Oxford Street. Head north and you’ll come across KALA, a down-to-earth diner on King Street which is famous for its Sunday roasts and rich chocolate ‘oblivion’ dessert. If you’re after something buttery and crumbly for your breakfast, don’t miss Pollen Bakery in Ancoats. This superior viennoiserie is home to the cruffin – a cross between a croissant and a muffin – which is stuffed with sweet curd or crème patissiere. For flavoursome pho and fried chicken under one roof, be sure to stop by Escape to Freight Island, housed at the former Mayfield railway depot, while Mackie Mayor in the Northern Quarter is another great shout for mouth-watering street food.

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2

Must-visit attractions in Manchester

Old Trafford

Lauded as the capital of football, it would be criminal not to visit one of Manchester’s two world-famous football clubs, Manchester United and Manchester City. Both Premier League teams offer behind-the-scenes tours of their stadiums – Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium – giving you the chance to walk in the footsteps of greatness. Make your way through the players’ tunnel, have a peek inside the locker rooms and see the history of the clubs brought to life in the museums. At the Etihad Stadium, you can even interact with Pep Guardiola in the press room using augmented reality technology. For an extra treat, why not book onto one of the Legends Tours (available at both stadiums) where you’ll be guided around the grounds by iconic players like Joe Corrigan, Tommy Booth and Lee Martin, hearing insider stories of precious club moments.

More attractions in Manchester

Take a trip down memory lane on the nation’s favourite television street at Coronation Street: The Tour. Step into familiar surroundings like the Rovers Return and Roys Rolls and walk in the shoes of your favourite characters along the iconic cobbles. You’ll also hear secrets from behind the scenes and be given the latest lowdown of who’s up to no good! Before the age of television, books ruled the roost and there’s no better place to see them than at John Rylands Library, one of the few libraries in the world that upstages the literature – which includes some of the rarest ever written. Admire awe-inspiring neo-gothic architecture in the reading room before checking out the collections in the Rylands Gallery. Guided tours are also available for Chetham’s – the oldest surviving public library in the English-speaking world – which houses dark, Hogwarts-esque panelled rooms and swathes of ancient books.

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3

Fun things to do in Manchester

The Crystal Maze

Ever wanted to be a contestant on a game show? Well now’s your chance. The Crystal Maze, one of the best-loved TV shows of the 90s, has rooted its second venue (of only two in England) in Manchester. Led by an eccentric Maze Master, you’ll solve puzzles and challenges in some of the 32 game rooms across four adventure zones – Medieval, Aztec, Futuristic and Industrial – in an attempt to collect as many crystals as you can. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be jumping, running and sliding around this crazy immersive game, before finishing up in the infamous crystal Dome where you’ll frantically try to catch as many golden tokens before the time runs out. Nostalgic or what?

More activities in Manchester

Another high-energy experience based on an iconic television show is the I’m a Celebrity…Jungle Challenge. Inspired by the hit ITV reality show, this action-packed jungle encounter immerses you in fun-filled physical challenges in an effort to be crowned king or queen of the jungle. If you’re more into virtual reality than reality TV, Electric Gamebox will be more up your street. Rescue the Queen’s corgis or mine for Martian minerals at this group gaming venue made up of motion tracking, touch screens and more. Not got much of a competitive edge? Why not hit the slopes at Chill Factore, the UK’s longest indoor ski slope, or become a master gin distiller for a day at the award-winning City of Manchester Distillery?

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4

Shopping in Manchester

Arndale Shopping Centre

Manchester is certainly not short of retail therapy. At the centre of the city is Arndale Shopping Centre, a Manchester landmark and the biggest inner-city shopping centre in the country. Browse for hours in over 200 shops, from Accessorize to Kurt Geiger, LEGO to Lindt and Lush, and check out the independent traders selling everything from jewellery to tech in the Arndale Market before refuelling with a fully-loaded Five Guys burger or moreish maki at Yo! Sushi.

More shopping in Manchester

Fancy mixing shopping with sharks? The Trafford Centre, with its iconic glass ceiling and indoor palm trees, is not only home to high-street fashion icons and swish department stores like Selfridges but also houses over 60 restaurants, a cinema and SEA LIFE Manchester. Elsewhere, Spinningfields has an impressive array of flagship stores like Mulberry and Emporio Armani on The Avenue while the Jewellery Quarter – King Street, Exchange Street and St Ann’s Square – shimmers with a range of independent and chain jewellers selling contemporary and vintage bling. If you’re visiting in December, be sure to stay for Manchester Christmas Markets – six city-centre squares filled with yuletide bars, food stalls and artisan sellers.

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5

Bars and nightlife in Manchester

ONE EIGHT SIX

As one of the biggest cities in the country, it’ll come as no surprise that Manchester has a banging nightlife scene – that isn’t just for students. Hidden in plain sight, ONE EIGHT SIX is one of the city’s quirkiest bars. Housed inside a working barber shop, this underground drinking den is a classic cocktail bar fuelled by sophisticated live music. Step through the mirrored door to a dimly-lit intimate setting where the stage is the centre point, and savour one of the many cocktails (we’ll have a Scandalous, please) to a soundtrack of soul, jazz, R’n’B and Motown hits.

Please note that ONE EIGHT SIX is temporarily closed but is planning to open its doors again soon.

More after-dark activities

Secret bars are a bit of a trend in Manchester and another worth uncovering is The Washhouse, a speakeasy joint hidden behind a launderette exterior. Its Japanese-inspired cocktails are *chefs kiss*. For something a bit livelier, head to Band on the Wall in the Northern Quarter – it’s an eclectic and accessible live music venue where, in its humble beginnings, musicians literally played on a stage on the wall. And for late-night escapades, go dancing at the Gay Village’s Alter Ego which is famed for its themed nights. Alternatively, for an evening that doesn’t require dancing shoes, why not catch a show at one of Manchester’s ground-breaking theatres like HOME and The Royal Exchange?

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6

Places to stay in Manchester

Hotel Gotham

Hotel Gotham has won just about every award you would want for your hotel of choice, from ‘Coolest Boutique’ to ‘Most Stylish Independent’. Why? It’s deeply tactile (brass, leather, velvet, sky-high thread counts), pays attention to the details (homemade biscuits, big mugs, waffle robes) and its location is awesome. Housed in a former branch of Midland Bank, this five-star hotel is full of glitzy decadence and its obliging staff dressed in character. The onsite Honey Restaurant gives Manchester’s restaurant scene some keen competition and the prohibition-style speakeasy lounge, Club Brass, is only open to hotel guests and fee-paying members. Champagne cocktails on the roof terrace, anyone?

More accommodation ideas

More traditional five-star service can be found at The Edwardian Manchester, a former Free Trade Hall built in 1853. It’s seen many a famous face in its time (from Winston Churchill to Bob Dylan) and has a basement spa, views across the city skyline and Instagram-worthy afternoon tea. Footy fans may prefer being closer to the action at Hotel Football. Owned by five former players, this family-friendly hotel next to Old Trafford has complimentary in-room mini bars stocked with retro sweets, Sky Sports and BT Sports channels on the TVs and a tuck shop in the restaurant. Visiting for the nightlife? Then opt for the DogHouse Hotel – the ultimate accommodation for beer lovers. The BrewDog-owned establishment has a free bar at check-in, rooms with draught beer taps and in-shower beer fridges and a buzzy taproom downstairs serving tacos. Oh, and dogs are welcome here too. 

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7

Guided tours in Manchester

Northern Quarter

While there's daylight, Manchester has some stunning street art to see. If shopping has left you light of pocket, take in the Northern Quarter's strong and dazzling street art. In 2016, the world's most talented street artists gathered here for the Cities of Hope festival, transforming an area filled with a jumble of architectural styles. There are colourful surprises around every turn including a giant blue tit, enormous Manchester bees, a Greek god in a car park and oh-so-many cats in space hats.

More guided tours

Join a themed walking tour and delve deeper into a topic that snaps your synapses, or simply scratch the surface of Manchester’s motley history. You could take in the city’s most beautiful buildings, its legendary music landmarks, or see it through the eyes of suffragettes, Alan Turing, Jeremy Corbyn, or The Smiths. Alternatively, see the city by boat on a Musical Manchester Boat Tour. Travel along Manchester Shipping Canal, past the factories and mills that gave the city the nickname ‘workshop of the world’ before sailing past Salford’s MediaCity. Evening tours with live singers are also available, where you’ll bob along to hits by Elvis, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.

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8

Museums and galleries in Manchester

National Football Museum

Provided you’re not all footballed out at this point, you’re definitely going to want to pay a visit to the National Football Museum, the world’s biggest museum dedicated to the beautiful game. Geek out to footy history, see the 1966 World Cup ball, hold the FA Cup and catch a glimpse of Maradona’s 1986 ‘Hand of God’ match shirt all before testing out your skills in one of the interactive games. Penalty Shootout will analyse the speed, power and precision of your kicks while One-Two will put your passing range to the test. You can even learn slick new tricks in On The Ball or give Peter Drury and Alan Gray a run for their money by calling the action in the Match of the Day Commentary Challenge – it’s harder than it looks.

More museums and galleries

Topping many a hit-list of things to do in Manchester is the extensive Whitworth Gallery, which is home to over 55,000 artworks (The Art Garden is worth a trip alone) yet has none on permanent display. Over in the industrial hub of the city, Castlefield Gallery is a launch pad for emerging artists, meaning it’s easier to get close to the people behind the free exhibitions. You won’t see art quite like this anywhere else in the city. The Pankhurst Centre gives you a glimpse into a key part of political history and Manchester’s connection to the Suffragettes in the place where the first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union took place, while Manchester Police Museum is a trove of policing memorabilia, photographs and clothing from the Victorian era to the present day. You can also have a nose around restored cells, offices and even a courtroom.

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9

Things to do outdoors in Manchester

Manchester Street Art

The Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) youngest garden, Bridgewater, is one of the best new places to visit in Manchester. Opened in May 2021, this year-round garden is located on the former site of Worsley New Hall, delicately blending history with world-class gardening. Wander through the mosaic-style Welcome Garden before exploring the 11-acre Weston Walled Garden, one of the largest Victorian walled gardens in the UK, brimming with herbs and veg and flora from America, Asia and the Med. You can even take a look at Bridgewater’s Community Grow, a honeycomb-shaped garden (inspired by Manchester’s connection with the worker bee) that allows local people to unleash their green fingers and grow produce for local food banks.

More green spaces

For outdoor fun in the sun, Heaton Park should be top of your list. It’s the biggest park in the northwest and is home to nine listed structures, four cafés, playgrounds, rowing boats and even an animal centre full of furry farmyard animals. Be sure to wander up to The Temple – it’s the highest viewpoint in Manchester. Adjacent to Piccadilly Station you’ll find Mayfield Park, Manchester’s first new park in over 100 years, complete with adventure playgrounds, biodiverse meadows and stepped seating overlooking the river. Alternatively, check out the Castlefield Viaduct, an abandoned viaduct-turned-urban park, reminiscent of New York’s famous High Line. With help from the National Trust, this new sky park is now a cultivated garden with colourful dense foliage and plots that can be hired to showcase artworks and horticultural flair.

Find out more
15 Aug 2022(last updated)

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  • 1

    Mana, Manchester

  • 2

    Old Trafford

  • 3

    The Crystal Maze

  • 4

    Arndale Shopping Centre

  • 5

    ONE EIGHT SIX

  • 6

    Hotel Gotham

  • 7

    Northern Quarter

  • 8

    National Football Museum

  • 9

    Manchester Street Art

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